What do Donald Trump and ISIS have in common? We are witness to images of terrorists who publically ‘hood’ those they execute. Donald Trump advocates building walls to exclude the face of Moslems from our view. Both are acts of radical depersonalization. Both Trump and ISIS must de-face The Other excluded from group self-identity. To face The Other calls into question our self-sufficiency, our constructed self-identity. To truly face The Other compels us toward transformation.
At the heart of the constructed battle between the self-described ISIS Caliphate and the self-described Western Way of Life, is the shared egology (Iyer, 2001, p. 191) of dueling civilizations. (I understand egology as the knowing or understanding of the universe that is grounded in an egocentric and fear-based world view). The egology of both ISIS and the worldview shared by Trump and other right-wing extremists are perpetrated by the radical depersonalization of The Other. Each is committed to the annihilation of the other. This is a pact of mutual destruction shrouded in the fear-language of religiosity gone deeply awry.
Extreme religious fundamentalism–in the name of both Islam and Christianity–fuels the fire and passion of this obsession with mutual self-destruction. Both offer a bloody sacrifice on the altar of a faceless divinity. Murder, of humans made faceless, is validated in the name of God or Allah. Both the masking of victims being executed and the depersonalized destruction through distant drone attacks invisiblize the faces of those we execute in an endless cycle of violence.
Each act of violence prompts an act of retaliatory violence. Both sides maintain that there is no resolution to this cycle of violence except the utter destruction of the Enemy Other. Each act of violence forms the moral certitude that justifies the retaliatory act of violence. Just as Mahtama Ghandi prophetically articulates that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” we must recognize that this cycle of retaliatory defacing leaves the whole world in a perpetual state of violence. Till we have faces, there is no possibility of stepping beyond the co-construction of the Enemy Other.
Till we have faces, there will be no peace. To face is to “address” (Iyer, 2001, p. 192). It is to open the door for the intimacy of Relational Presence. Facing opens the possibility of meeting and breaking bread together. This is the wisdom of the proverb from Africa: “When we break bread together, we have no enemy.”
But, the paradox of exposing the visage–the face of The Other–is that we necessarily confront both our own life and death simultaneously. This is a paradox of mythical proportions. It is the paradox of the ancient legend of Cupid and Psyche from Metamorphoses written by the 2nd Century rhetorician, Apuleius. Psyche was not permitted to see the face of her lover Cupid, but could not consummate her love till she risked death to see his face.
In his last novel, Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis reframes the legend of Cupid and Psyche. In this novel, originally titled Bareface, Orval, Psyche’s older sister, asks the compelling question: “How can the Gods meet us face to face till we have faces?” These are the holy dark places (Donaldson, 1989) where we seek to see the face of the Beloved, of the Divine, at the risk of losing our own life. The veil of the Holy of Holies, in the Abraham faith traditions, shields us from the face of God. In these traditions, to see the face of God meant certain death.
But, the message of The Gospel is that, in the resurrection of Christ, the veil is ripped in two. The separation of the Divine from our ordinary human existence is shattered. The message of reconciliation of the Divine and human reverberates across diverse faith traditions. Still, the predominant paradigm of mainstream religious practice continually invisiblizes the face of God. Yet, mystics from diverse traditions still journey to the quiet places of the desert to seek a glimpse of the face of God.
In mimetic movement with C.S. Lewis’ compelling question: “How can the Gods meet us face to face till we have faces,” I ask: “Will we ever see that which is divine in all humans if we continue to worship a faceless, judgmental God?” Like the character in C.S. Lewis’ novel, my faith journey started with confronting this mythical faceless “God who hates me.” Today, I join the mystics in the desert to seek the even momentary lifting of the veil to disclose a glimpse of the loving presence of the Divine.
In the loving glance of a thousand fellow-travelers on this earth journey, I see the face of the Divine. This is the place where we find the beauty in the beast, where Psyche meets Cupid, and where the duality of the sacred vs. the secular dissolves.
The fear-mongering of both ISIS and Trump depends on facelessness. There is no wall high enough and no mask thick enough to hide the face of the Divine, when the heart is attuned to love. Love is, indeed, greater than fear.
I will risk my life to see the face of those who, we are told, are enemies to despise and kill. In the face of The Other, I have the opportunity to see the face of God. I will risk my life to see the face of the Divine. This planet we share together, is now the Holy of Holies. The veil that separates us from the Divine is ripped in two. This is the place where we journey from the East and from the West to the Great Feast to which we are all invited to break bread together.
When we break bread together, we have no enemies. This is communion in heart presence. This is the intersection of peace making and place making. This is the place, where meeting each other, we take off our shoes because we know we are standing on holy ground.
Dare we move from the shallow egology–fear-based self-centeredness–of our civilization to a deep, sacred ecology–where the places we meet each other are holy places? Dare we end the cycle of perpetual violence and retaliatory violence? Till we have faces there is no peace. May we see in the face of The Other, the Divine which is Mercy and Compassion. May the walls come down. May the veil be lifted. May peace prevail on earth.
the Holy Spirit
blows where it wills,
like the night wind;
mercifully cooling now
my hot tears of longing;
then shifting, fleetingly
lifting the veil
from the face of the Beloved.
holy and compassionate.
Donaldson, M. (1989). Holy Places Are Dark Places: C. S. Lewis and Paul Ricoeur on Narrative Transformation. Lanham, MD. University Press of America.
Iyer, L. (2001). The Sphinx’s Gaze: Art, Friendship, and the Philosophical in Blanchot and Levinas. The Southern Journal of Philosophy. Vol. XXXIX.
Lewis, C.S. (1956). Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. Boston: Mariner Books.
Mahaffy, S. (2007). Awakening: Poetry by Samuel Inayat Mahaffy. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/6062820/Awakening_Poetry_of_the_Spiritual_Journey